Fix a Garbage Disposal that’s Clogged? Here’s what to do

Under sink food waste disposers are great, but at some point every disposal will clog up. So here are some basic guidelines to help you before you start to panic!

Avoid the problem

A garbage disposal unit clogs up when it has too much food waste, too little water flowing through it or the waste it has to tackle is too tough. Four basic rules will help avoid a clogged garbage disposal:

  1. Remember to always turn the faucet on first: your disposal unit needs flowing water – everything you put into the garbage disposal goes right into your plumbing system, so it needs flowing water to wash it through the pipes. Make sure you keep the faucet turned on for a few seconds after you’ve switched off your disposal to help flush the waste away.
  2. Choosing the most powerful model you can afford will help avoid clogging (use my sink garbage disposal comparison chart to check on horsepower) – an electric motor with more horsepower will crunch through bones and tough food waste more easily.
  3. Don’t dump all your food waste into the sink in one go: take it easy and feed in food waste gradually.
  4. Don’t push huge lumps of food waste into the unit – put these into the trash or compost pile and keep the food waste disposer for the smaller bits of waste.

What to do when your food waste disposer is clogged

  1. First, make sure that you’ve flushed plenty of water through the sink – turn on the faucet and let the water drain through. Don’t use any strong chemicals at this point – you might be able to avoid these altogether.
  2. Reset the motor: when you flip the switch on to run the disposal unit, does it just ‘hum’? If so, it’s likely to just be jammed which means that the motor will automatically cut off to protect it. Most garbage disposals have a reset button on the bottom of the unit. Turn off the unit, count to ten, press the reset button, then switch on and try again. Some food waste disposers (particularly the more expensive and more powerful) have built-in features to try and automatically remove the jam by increasing the electricity current to the motor to power through the jam or, if that doesn’t work, the unit will try automatically reversing the grind direction.
  3. Manually turn the disposal unit: if your unit is still jammed, once you’ve turned off the electricity, you can try turning the main shaft of the disposal unit manually. Most garbage disposals have a small opening at the bottom that allows you to insert a special allen key wrench (this wrench key might have been included with the model; if not, a normal allen key will work fine). Before you start, make certain that you’ve turned off the power supply then insert the allen key and you’ll be able to turn the main shaft manually. This might let you get rid of the jam. Run the faucet whilst you turn the key and with luck you’ll clear the jam and the water will start to flow through. Once you’ve removed the key, try switching on the power again.
  4. Still jammed? You’re probably wise to call a plumber now unless you’re happy to switch off the power, remove the whole unit and use pliers to take out whatever is stuck is inside.